Duane Drockelman was just out of the 'wet behind the ears stage' when he came to Johnson County as the district soil conservation with what was then the Soil Conservation Service in the late '70s. That means he was just entering his prime, and for just shy of a decade he helped that district do some of the most innovative conservation measures anywhere. It was key timing, because no-till was just coming on the scene, and Drockleman convinced the conservative district board to not only buy a no-till planter to lease out, but also to establish a conservation tillage plot on a 120-acre farm.
For three years it was the talk of the area. Folks in Wayne County, led by the irrepressible Quentin Williamson, visited and liked it so much, they went home and copied it. Johnson County soon moved on to other projects, but Wayne County continued its plots for roughly 20 years, helping no-till gain a significant foothold on the rolling soils of east-central Indiana.
Drockelman moved on in the mid-'80s, but he and I remain friends to this day. I was a supervisor back then, a wet-behind the ears ag teacher at first, then a wet-behind the-ears field editor for Indiana Prairie Farmer. We always like talking to each other because we were both passionate about soil conservation, we both liked talking to farmers, we both graduated from Purdue, and we both could trace our roots to growing up on small farms.
We don't get to see each other much anymore. So it was a special treat earlier this month when I spent the day riding with Duane, as he showed me projects in the South Laughery Creek Watershed in southeast Indiana. Retired from the Natural Resource Conservation Service after a long career, he now coordinated that project, funded by EPA 319 grant money.
"Do you remember some of the older supervisors who were there when I first arrived in Johnson County?" he asked over lunch at Jack's Place in Rising Sun - the breaded tenderloins are huge and very good!
"Sure, there was Bob Morris, Ed Pritchard, Herman Walker, Mike Adams, Merrill Clark and Al Meyer, plus George Ellis. Only Al and George are still with us," I noted.
"Those guys were fun because they had already been on the board, done their thing, and stuck around as associate supervisors while new kids like me and you took over," Duane noted. "It was cool learning from then. They were independent, conservative and willing to let us have just enough rope to almost hang ourselves."
Indeed, that brought back memories of a time when the soil conservation movement was still trying to find its niche in Indiana. There was no state support program yet. And the state conference had been held at Purdue University for eons. Upset over some petty disagreement with an area supervisor, the district wrote a letter to the state leaders, demanding many things. Just for fun, they threw in that the state annual meeting should be moved to Indianapolis to be more centrally located.
It was one of those 'throw in a shocker to get the other points you really want,' statements. I ought to know - I drafted the letter! But it created quite a stir. And as it turns out, it wasn't but just a few years before the conference did move to Indianapolis.
"Those were good days," Drockelman reflected. "We had to argue with county councilmen who were just out to be obstinate, but in the end we made progress."
Indeed, Drockelman's stint there laid the groundwork for a much better funded district today. The county helps support technical help, something they didn't do in those days.
And his hard work, plus that of the supervisors mentioned above, helped Johnson County land a more than 600-acre park out of what was Camp Atterbury.
"Well, goodbye Duane," I said, shaking his hand back at his office as the day wound down. "We'll have to do this again."
"Have a safe trip home, Tom," he replied. "It certainly was fun."
And, oh, by the way, we visited a few farmers and I wracked up half a dozen story leads during the trip. Not a bad day's work. It's not every day you get paid to enjoy the company of an old friend.
Registered users are encouraged to comment on this blog.